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Sandy Hook Massacre Changes Gun Control Conversations


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Last night President Obama broke a long silence and called for a meaningful response to Friday's atrocity in Newtown, where a gunman murdered 27 people, including 20 first grade students, and then shot himself.

As you'll hear later this hour, last Wednesday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said that five months after the shootings at Aurora, the time had come for the legislature to reconsider gun laws. And today West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the life member of the NRA, said no hunter needs an assault rifle or a high-capacity clip.

Maybe this incident is so awful that public and legislative opinion will tip decisively one way or another, but how do we re-open a conversation that so often lapses into accusations? What's the discussion we should be having about guns? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

As we mentioned, later in the program Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper will join us, but first we begin with John Lott, an economist and author of "More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws." He joins us now by phone from Virginia. And it's good of you to be with us today.

JOHN LOTT: Well, thank you for having me on.

CONAN: And I wonder, the book is about why you believe that gun-free zones, I guess like the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, are magnets for shooters. Is that the conversation you've been having?

LOTT: Yeah, I mean that's part of it. I think one thing that's been missing in this discussion is that essentially all the multiple victim public shootings in the United States, and all the ones in Europe, have one factor in common - that is, they keep occurring where guns are banned.

And I'll give you a simple example from this year. I mean any of the ones you point to from this year or past years are going to follow that, but look at the Colorado shooting that the governor is going to be coming on to talk about. You had seven movie theaters showing the Batman movie within a 20-minute drive of the killer's apartment.

Only one of those seven movie theaters posted a ban on concealed handguns. The killer didn't go to the movie theater that was closest to his home. There was one that was only 1.3 miles away. He didn't go to the largest one. In fact, one advertises itself quite openly as having the largest auditorium in the state of Colorado.

And you'd think if you wanted to go to one that would kill a lot of people, he'd go to the largest one on premiere night for the Batman movie. Instead, the one he went to was the only one that banned concealed handguns. And that happens time after time.

You look at the mall shooting last week. There were other malls in the area that did not post bans. Yet the one he picked to go to was the one that banned concealed handguns. Look at...

CONAN: I hear your point, I hear what you're saying, and somebody might say Tucson. This was a mall. Clearly somebody who was angry at a member of Congress for whatever reason. If you say somebody at Virginia Tech was angry at, enraged at his school, whether or not it was a gun-free zone is almost irrelevant.

LOTT: Right, but here's the point, and that is when you have state that allows concealed carry, the gun-free zones are really only a tiny fraction of the area within the state. You take Virginia, for example. Basically the only places that you're banned from carrying a concealed handgun in Virginia are courthouses, airports and schools.

So you know, if it was random, you know, people could get mad at all sorts of places, right?

CONAN: Yeah, but he was a student at Virginia Tech and clearly had rage against the institution.

LOTT: No, I understand, but presumably - right, I understand, but presumably there are other people who get mad at other things. Why, why - you had a mall shooting a few years ago in Nebraska. OK, there's like seven major malls. Why would he go to the one that was posted for a ban? Or in Salt Lake City, when they had malls there. Why would the shooter go to - you know, it could be random, but at some point if you have seven movie theaters that fit the same criteria of showing the movie, you know, what are the odds time after time when these things occur that they pick the one place where guns are banned to engage in the attack.

CONAN: And this is the really the moment to have this conversation, do you think, to reach out across the divide and...

LOTT: I've been trying to have this conversation for over a decade. Look at the Columbine shooting. It's another example. One thing that people don't talk about very much is that the two killers in that case were very opposed to a concealed handgun law that was being considered at that time before the state legislature.

Dylan Klebold particularly spoke out about it. It's my understanding that he actually wrote letters to the state legislature opposing the adoption of the concealed carry law. One thing that doesn't get attention is that the Columbine attack occurred the very day that the Colorado legislature was scheduled for final passage of the concealed handgun law.

I was there in the morning. I was asked by the speaker of the House at the time to come and talk to legislators before they voted later that afternoon on the bill.

CONAN: You don't find it - excuse me, you don't find it more relevant that both these kids were students at Columbine High School? They were going to attack somewhere else?

LOTT: Yeah, but the point is, why did he pick that day? And also, look, out of all these attacks, if it's random, wouldn't you expect some attacks to be occurring in places, you know, where guns - where guns aren't banned? Look at Europe. Look at Switzerland, for example. Switzerland has a very relaxed concealed carry law. Half the cantons in the country, you don't need a license, you just carry it. The other half, very easy to get a license.

They've had three big multiple-victim public shootings in the last 12 years. All three of those are in the very few buildings where guns aren't allowed in Switzerland. I'm just saying, you look around the world, at some point if it's just randomness, you know, and - you know, you would expect to see more than zero, right, in these cases, and the United States has only one case since 1950 where one of these multiple-victim public shootings, where more than three people have been killed, that's occurred in a place where guns were allowed.

All the other ones, all the others have occurred where guns are banned. Let me give you a simple question to think about. Let's say, God forbid, a criminal was seriously stalking you, a violent criminal was stalking you or your family. Would you feel safer putting a sign in front of your home that said your home was a gun-free zone? Would that make you feel like the criminal would be less likely to attack your family in the home there?

My guess is you wouldn't put up a sign like that. I don't know any gun control proponent that would put up a sign like that in front of their own home. I've debated many of them. But why do we put those - even though we wouldn't put a sign like that in front of our home, we put them in front of all sorts of other places.

And the answer is obvious why we wouldn't put it in front of our own home. It's because we know that would encourage the person to attack. He'd say if I can attack anyplace, why shouldn't I attack where I know they're not going to be able to defend themselves very well?

CONAN: John Lott, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

LOTT: OK, thank you.

CONAN: John Lott is an economist and author of "More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control." He joined us on the phone from Virginia. Let's see if we can go next to - this is - this is Steven(ph), Steven with us from Fort Smith in Arkansas.

STEVEN: Yes, sir.

CONAN: Hi there. Go ahead, please.

STEVEN: I am a concealed carry owner, and I personally only own two firearms. However, I have had to use my firearm or a firearm to protect somebody else. I heard screaming and shouting, and somebody was getting beat up out in front of my apartment, and I stepped on the doorstep with my rifle and pretty much ended the situation.

CONAN: And so you're in favor of - so what's the conversation we should be having today?

STEVEN: We should be having the conversation on how to keep the school safe, how to have first responders of a different sort other than medical on-scene. I mean going to your previous guest, he missed a point, that if you look at the gun crime rates, the violent crime rates in two neighboring states, Vermont and Massachusetts, they're markedly different.

Vermont has almost zero. I'm not saying it is zero, I'm just saying it's considerably less than the state next door, Massachusetts, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. And Vermont has probably the most unrestricted. If you don't have a felony, if you don't have any kind of violent record, you can carry concealed or open. And I mean the effect is pretty dramatic.

CONAN: Well, the states, many of the states that have the strictest gun control laws are among the states that have the lowest per-capita gun crime rates.

STEVEN: Until you start getting to the major cities like Chicago and New York.

CONAN: And - well, Chicago, the murder rate has been going up horribly in recent months. In New York, it's been going down for several years.

STEVEN: New York has also taken the aspect of putting more cops on the roads. Chicago hasn't really been able to afford more police officers, and New York has been cutting budgets everywhere except for their police department. So they've been, in effect, putting more guns on the streets in the hands of people that they trust, in police officers, while Chicago's (technical difficulties).

But if you allowed to citizens to carry their own firearms, there would be that level of uncertainty as far as the (technical difficulties) if I mug this guy, does he have a gun? Can (technical difficulties)...

CONAN: All right, we're losing your cell phone, Steven, but thanks very much for the call, we appreciate it. And let's see if we can go next to - this is Kelsey(ph), Kelsey with us from Denver.

KELSEY: Yes, I feel that the conversation should also include when you're in either a gun-free zone or not, if somebody shows up with a bat and is aggressive, they're escalating a situation. If somebody shows up with an AK-47, they're escalating the situation. So...

CONAN: Again, I hear your point, and I'm hearing arguments from our first guest and from our first caller, and I guess from you too. What is the conversation we should be having? How do we reach agreement on some of this?

KELSEY: The conversation we should be having is if everybody says if I had a gun, I could have stopped that from happening, but if everybody has a gun, then everybody's going to get shot. And the conversation that has to happen is mental health care. We can talk about gun laws, tit for tat, rules here, rules there, but if we're not taking care of these individuals, and if we're not supporting their parents, who have come out and said help me but cannot find the help, then we're going to continue to have these situations.

President Obama said we are all parents, but we are not behaving that way. So why are there so many people who we have tried to help in the mental health - in the mental health system, who have been in the mental health system but have still been allowed to go untreated? And I think we have to fund mental health and help support our parents.

CONAN: Kelsey, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it. When we come back, we'll be talking with a gun control advocate, the mayor of New Haven, Connecticut. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. In the Newtown, Connecticut area today, families began to bury the first of more than two dozen victims of Friday's mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Family and friends gathered to remember Jack Pinto and Noah Pozner, two six-year-old boys killed in their classrooms.

Teddy bears, white flowers and a single red rose were placed outside one funeral home. Noah's twin sister, who also attended Sandy Hook but in a different classroom, survived the attack on Friday that left 20 children and six adults dead inside the school.

More funerals are planned in coming days. The mass shooting has refocused attention on the debate over guns in this country. Our focus today is where the conversation goes from here. What's the discussion we should be having about guns? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

John DeStefano is the mayor of New Haven, Connecticut, a member of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and joins us by phone from New Haven. Nice to have you with us today.

MAYOR JOHN DESTEFANO: Good afternoon, Neal.

CONAN: And I know New Haven's not all that far away from Newtown, and by extension we offer condolences. There may be some people in your community who knew people in Newtown.

DESTEFANO: I think we're all part of Newtown these last three days.

CONAN: What's the conversation there in Connecticut? What's changed in this conversation about guns since Friday?

DESTEFANO: There's a discussion about guns going on, as there has been. This event didn't occur in isolation. Increasingly across America we see the carnage from these incredibly lethal weapons. And for some of us in cities, in my city last year, I had 32 individuals who were killed by gunfire, and 133 additionally had nonfatal gunshot wounds. This is a powerful issue affecting America.

CONAN: And obviously an incident like the one in Newtown focuses attentions on mass killings. You remind us that in fact most of those killed by gun violence are killed ones or twos at a time.

DESTEFANO: For sure, and sometimes they put themselves at risk. However, what we see in all these instances is the ready availability and access to guns. And up in Newtown, you know, it all breaks your heart. No one's unaffected by this, I think, but - because we all put ourselves in the position as parents of seeing this. But some of those kids were hit up to 11 times by bullets.

What are we about if we don't, as a nation, do something about this, as the president suggested? And believe me, I support, and we do a lot of mental health services, and to this point I don't know that Adam Lanza had a diagnosed mental health problem or not. I don't know that, nor does anyone else.

CONAN: No, we don't, and we don't - the shooter in Tucson, Jared Loughner, he had not been diagnosed either.

DESTEFANO: Right, but there is a commonality in all of these incidents across all of America, which is the ready access to automatic and semiautomatic weapons, large ammo clips, and use of them. And in this case we do know that the Bushmaster that Lanza had access to was legally obtained. What purpose does having these kinds of weapons at the ready serve? What right do they serve? And I think now's the time to finally, finally do something as a nation to outlaw these kinds of weapons.

CONAN: And you've been out front, you and the other mayors in your group, on this issue for some years now, and I have to say made little headway.

DESTEFANO: Lots of people have done far more than I have done. I think mayors across the country, however, as we've worked in our communities, have just seen our neighborhoods devastated by this kind of violence. It's why I say we're all members of Newtown.

We've all seen the damage that has been done to victims, to families, to neighborhoods, and to what point? You know, you can't begin to take off the streets all the millions and millions of weapons out there without starting somewhere. But it's time to start to make a change.

CONAN: And how do you reach out to those - and you've spoken, I'm sure, to many of them, on the other side of this issue and say it's time to change, to convince them to change their heart and their mind?

DESTEFANO: Look, I don't think some people's minds are going to change. I saw one member of Congress suggesting that Dawn Hochsprung should have had a similar type of weapon. You know, I'm like a lot of other people: My wife's a first grade teacher in a neighboring town. Go talk to an educator and have someone suggest that that's what we should be doing, which is arming our teachers and principals in our school.

You know what? I don't think an individual like that can be reached, and I'm not interested in that. What I'm interested in is seeing that our children are safe and that our neighborhoods are safe, and there is no possible reason to justify the ready access to these kinds of weapons.

CONAN: I wonder, did you take measures today at your schools there in New Haven?

DESTEFANO: Of course. I mean I can't imagine - you know, in New Haven I appoint the school board. I'm a voting member of the school board. It's part of our city government. We have 1,800 teachers and 21,000 students. And I heard from every teacher who didn't have a lockdown key, and certainly we'll all review our security measures.

But this isn't just a school issue. This is an America issue. And it's about how we treat one another and how we care for one another and what the role that these destructive, lethal weapons have in our society. And the carnage is incredible. The Centers for Disease Control reported that in 2010, 32,000 Americans were killed by gunfire in the United States, 32,000.

I don't think we're going to prevent every one of those incidents by any stretch of the imagination, but we can do better, and we need to start doing better.

CONAN: What's the start?

DESTEFANO: The start is by banning automatic and semiautomatic weapons.

CONAN: I think you're misspeaking: automatic weapons are already banned.

DESTEFANO: I'm sorry, semiautomatic weapons - these large ammo clips and the sale of weapons, the sale of weapons in gun shows, where there's inadequate background checks and licensing going on. That's a place we could start.

CONAN: Mayor DeStefano, thank you very much for your time today.

DESTEFANO: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: John Stafano - DeStefano, excuse me, is the mayor of New Haven, Connecticut and a member of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. This is an email from Pam in Denver: I think the most important conversation is the one within the NRA, because it's the NRA that's kept pushing - punishing legislators for any action on guns and keeps promoting greater and greater gun rights. Softening needs to happen on extremism within the NRA because this faction has worked tirelessly to prevent national conversation around guns.

I hope more moderate gun owners become active within the NRA and begin to curb the organization's posture. Let's see if we go next to Macai(ph), and Macai's on the line with us from Littleton in Colorado.

MACAI: Yeah, hi, Neal, good to be with you today. I wanted to speak kind of about - well, first of all, I attended Columbine High School. I was a junior when the shootings happened there. And I feel like a situation like this really kind of touches everybody. You know, many of us are parents. I myself have a two-year-old.

And I feel like now is a time when so many people have such strong opinions about gun legislation and gun control, to maybe do something about it.

CONAN: If you're the Macai who was at Columbine, you were a witness. You saw much of what happened.

MACAI: I was, yes. I was in the library, and I myself was injured, and many of my friends, and I witnessed, you know, the murder of young people with firearms. And, you know, I've had an opinion about it, and I don't share it often, but when something as horrific as this happens, I, you know, I feel like it's important to speak up.

CONAN: Obviously this - incidents like this, Aurora, must have triggered some memories as well.

MACAI: Oh, absolutely, yeah. Yeah, it's, you know, kind of you revisit many of those emotions, and, you know, many times, for me at least, going back to Columbine, you kind of go through that anger and sometimes resentment about, you know, what it's - what happens, you know, in those situations, and...

CONAN: Remind us, how were you injured?

MACAI: Yeah. I was shot in the legs with a shotgun, a sawed-off shotgun and...

CONAN: Are you OK now?

MACAI: I am, yeah, definitely physically. And it's been a while, you know? So...

CONAN: Yeah. Yeah.

MACAI: ...I've had some time to kind of sort those things out a little bit, but, you know, I can identify with, probably, how people are feeling in the Newtown community. And it's awful. It's just plain awful, you know. And, you know, my thoughts and my sympathies are with them. Absolutely.

CONAN: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. And I know it can't be an easy conversation for you to have as you suggest. The one other question I would have for you, you were a teenager when this happened, in high school.


CONAN: Kids who survived this shooting, 6, 7, 8 years old.

MACAI: Yes. You know, I've heard many people say that young people are resilient, and I can identify with that. You know, I - to experience something like that, being that young, I, you know, can't imagine the devastation, you know, or, you know, even just the questions they have for their parents. I'm kind of at a loss. My - what I wanted to kind of speak on, though, was when something like this - it's just devastating for people when that occurs. I think it, you know, it is the time to have the conversation about, you know, stricter gun control laws, you know, background checks, you know, the process you have to go through to get firearms, you know, looking at, you know, large capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons. I feel like it's time.

CONAN: Mackay, again, thank you very much for calling. Can you stay on the line for just a sec?

MACAI: You bet.

CONAN: I'm going to put you on hold. Mackay calling us from Littleton in Colorado. This morning, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin told MSNBC that he's an outdoorsman and a hunter. He mentioned he's a life member of the NRA, the National Rifle Association. But he said today it's time to discuss more gun regulation.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: I don't know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don't know anybody that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting. Anybody that's a proud gun owner, anybody that's a proud member of the NRA, they're also proud parents. They're proud grandparents. They understand this has changed where we go from now - from here.

CONAN: Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's get - this is Roy. Roy is with us from Lansing, Michigan.

ROY: Yes, sir. I think people are really missing the issue here when they just refer to everything as it's the guns. Before the guns, there was this thought in his head to commit violence. Now, whether that thought came from a video game, music, TV, a movie where they're glorifying violence and subjecting all of this information to young kids, we know that it does have an effect, that it numbs them to commit violence. And I think even if you took away all of the guns, maybe his next choice would have been to pack the car full of fertilizer and drive it into the building and kill 100 people.

You know, the - if we don't start addressing the true root cause of all of this violence, we're seeing more and more violence from young people, especially in inner cities. And then we're seeing these mass killings, but nobody is addressing the true root cause, and that is a mental issue, or it's going to be a drug issue, or it's the - this idea that violence is fun, or it's a way to solve a problem for them because they can't talk to somebody or whatever it is. But the gun came last.

And the newsman get - kind of make it sound like he went in there with a machine gun from the Army, and that's not the case. You can, you know, I served in the Army for 10 years. You can kill a person with one bullet just as much as you can with 10 bullets. I can do it with a handgun versus a machinegun. It's not the gun that's really the issue. It's the individual and their thought process. And until we really start addressing that - I mean, the people not hear some of the music the kids listen to today or the movies, even cartoons...

CONAN: And, Roy, I'm sorry to cut you off. In fact, there's been a lot of studies about the effect of violence on media or even video games or movies and TV on people on children. And the fact is there's no conclusive evidence one way or the other on that point. I know you're making a point, but we wanted to thank you very much for the call. Appreciate it.

ROY: Sure. Thanks.

CONAN: And Roy also raised the issue of mental health. Pete Earley is the author of "Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness." His op-ed, "Dealing with Guns and Mental Illness," ran today in USA Today. He joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION today.

PETE EARLEY: Thank you very much for inviting me.

CONAN: And you talked about your son who spoke to you shortly after the shootings took place. Tell us a little bit about that conversation.

EARLEY: Well, my son, like most people who have a mental health diagnosis, was very, very upset partly, obviously, the same concern that all of us have. This is such a horrific event. But also because he knows that people are going to immediately start putting everybody in the same wagon here. They're going to say, oh, people with mental illness, oh, they have to be locked up. They have to be taken away because they're going to cause incidents like this. You know, it's a very small subgroup of severely mentally ill people who end up in these kinds of situations.

We have to remember that, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health, one in four families at any given year are dealing with a mental health diagnosis. That's 52 million Americans. That's people like Mike Wallace and Terry Bradshaw and Catherine Zeta-Jones. So when you have an incident like this, it's important to remember that persons with mental illness are more likely to be victims than they are to be the one pulling the trigger. It's a very small group that has this problem that causes this.

CONAN: And the stigma just comes out more sharply in moments like this?

EARLEY: Oh, absolutely, and the anger. And, you know, it's very - as a parent, it's really, really tough because we know from watching people we love who have mental illness that they're not in their right thinking. They're not in their right mind. And when you're in that situation, it's interesting to me because people say, well, we have to figure out what caused them to do this.

You know, I interviewed a man in Miami who had strangled an infant in an airport. And when I asked him about that when he was stable, he said that he had seen the devil go into that infant, and that's why he killed the infant. And you're trying to make logic in a case where there may be no logic.

CONAN: Maybe. Obviously, we don't know the mental condition...

EARLEY: Right.

CONAN: ...of this young man in Connecticut. We may find out more later. But right now, we just don't know. Today, though, we're talking about guns. What's the conversation you're having since Friday? 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. Right now, we're talking about a conversation on guns and how it's changed in the days since the Newtown shooting. What's the discussion we should be having now? 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And our guest is Pete Earley, author of "Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness." He wrote an op-ed that ran in USA Today, "Dealing with Guns and Mental Illness." And I wanted to get to the issue of guns and mental illness. A lot of people say, if you've been diagnosed, well, there ought to be a more rigorous background check.

EARLEY: Well, right now, we have two - we have federal laws on the book that prevent people who have a mental health diagnosis and have been committed to an institution from buying guns. Most states have similar laws. Some, for instance in Connecticut, said that no guns can be sold to anyone who'd been in a mental institution in the last 12 months or had been found guilty - not guilty by reason of insanity. But the fact remains that it's easier to get an assault rifle today in the United States than it is to get decent mental health care, and that is the real stem of the problem.

We are failing people with mental illness because we do not provide treatment. And you have to have these two arguments together. You have to look at the slashws. 17 percent of public hospitals that treat persons with mental illness were closed in Connecticut. 145,000 people who live in Connecticut who have mental illnesses, only half of them are - get treatment. I was in Dubuque, Iowa. It takes four, sometimes, patients stay in emergency rooms for 48 hours, trying to find some kind of psychiatric help. I mean, we are in a crisis in this country when it comes to delivering treatment.

CONAN: This email from Emily: I agree we need to be talking about mental health. I think we need to talk about the negative stigma of mental health. I think there's an issue with access to services. But if we can create a culture where people feel comfortable seeking help and can let people understand that having a mental illness is the same as having cancer, more people will seek help. And we can do more to prevent this. How can we help if we're unaware because people are afraid to seek help? I understand what her analogy is about cancer. Obviously, there's an important distinction.

EARLEY: Right. And the thing that also has been left out of this conversation is that most people who have a mental health diagnosis - if they get proper treatment, if they get proper services, they recover.

My son was arrested. He was Tasered by the police. He had four major breakdowns. But for the last six years, he has been stable, and he is now working in the mental health field. People do get better, but you have to give them services and treatment, and that's what we're slashing. On one hand, look at the debate right now in Congress: what services can we cut?

CONAN: There is also the question of those who do not get diagnosed like the young man...

EARLEY: Right.

CONAN: ...in Arizona, Jared Loughner.

EARLEY: Right. And that's, you know, this is another problem. If you look at Tucson, if you look at Virginia Tech, if you look at Aurora, yes, some hit the scope - Virginia Tech hit the scope when it came to getting mental health services. But a lot of these folks, it's their first break. It's the first time they really interacted, and there may be a lot of reasons for that. One being that parents' hands are tied when you - like mine were when you have a child who's having that first break with reality. You have to wait until they're a danger to themselves or others, and that - and it sets up that person for failure in many ways.

CONAN: Yet, what do you do about that? They're 21. They're capable, or narrowly, of making decisions for themselves. You can't give parents those kind of rights. Those could easily be abused.

EARLEY: No, you can't give parents those kind of rights. But what you can do is listen to parents. You can have the first break.

No, you can't give parents those kind of rights. But what you can do is listen to parents. You can have the first break. When you see that, you can have independent evaluators look at it. You don't have - why do you have to have dangerousness as the criteria? Almost every state passed gravely disabled, unable to care for self or others. A parent should be the first one to recognize there is a problem. When they call that to the attention of professionals, professionals should be able to come in and tell the difference between a parent who simply wants to get rid of a child and someone who really needs help.

CONAN: Pete Earley, thanks very much for being with us today. We appreciate it.

EARLEY: Thank you.

CONAN: You can find a link to Pete Earley's op-ed that was published in USA Today, dealing with guns and mental illness, at our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

This email from Kerry(ph). My thought on what the conversation should be around gun violence? We should be identifying the causes and solutions to these self-destructive behaviors within our midst and better securing our biggest targets, places where children and adult citizens gather. I think of banks, which used to have posted arms security in their lobbies, of airline flights, which now have undercover plain clothes air marshals, et cetera. Our schools and communities need better protection from the evil in our midst, which only seems to be intensifying. And then we need to identify how we can strengthen local communities to embrace their members before they reach such a place of desperation and anger that they respond in such horrible and tragic ways. In an age of connectivity, we are increasingly alone. And we thank her for that.

Joining us now is John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado. He's on the phone with us from the capital in Denver. Governor, nice to speak with you again today.

GOVERNOR JOHN HICKENLOOPER: Nice to talk to you, Neal.

CONAN: And you were, just last Wednesday, five months after the shooting incident in Aurora, speaking with the Associated Press and you said now the time is right. You wanted to wait, but the time, you said, was right and, of course, were then overtaken by events.

HICKENLOOPER: Well, you can't possibly predict any of these things. And it is, again, some of the most emotionally devastating time I've ever spent in my life was after the shooting in Aurora, and I can only wish with all my heart, to the families of the victims in Newtown, you know, all of our prayers and thought, support. And I think Governor Malloy has done a remarkable job. It's just, until you're in it, you just can't describe to people how incredibly difficult it is.

CONAN: And there was a new conference in which you were peppered with questions. One of which is, well, if we always wait for time to lapse, we're always over taken by events. Is it still the right time for the Colorado legislature to reconsider gun laws?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think it is, for Colorado, because we're five months into it. And I think some of these discussions have to happen in all over, in state by state by state by state, so we get some of the facts. A key part of this is making sure we're all using the same facts, and then we come to some sort of compromise around what are the realities, the issue. Obviously, Connecticut, it's own world right now, and they're - the last thing they want to share about is - or at least most people want to hear about in these kinds of situations is, you know, the pros and the cons and a bitter fight.

But, you know, here in Colorado, it's been five months, and I think we are going to, you know, sit down and have discussions about high-capacity magazines, you know, the effect of, you know, the violence in our media. People who do have mental illness - as I was listening to your previous discussion, you know, people that are on the edge, or prone or, you know, have some level of mental illness where they can switch out of what most of us would call reality and go into a different reality, if they've been playing video games - and I'm sure you've seen the same video games I have - I mean, that could be some part of this. I'm not saying it is. I'm just saying that there's - it seems like there's got to be some reason of why we're seeing more of these incidents.

CONAN: There do seem to be more, they do seem to be more deadly. Statistically, there have been other periods in American history where there were more of these incidents. It seems to be random.

HICKENLOOPER: Right. Well, that's - again, I want to get all those facts together and make sure that we're looking at all - dealing from the same deck.

CONAN: There's a good point. But then we get into blue ribbon commissions, and then nothing seems to happen but the passage of time.

HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think we'll - at this point, certainly in Colorado, I think that we're looking at figuring out how to expand background checks to all private sales and, you know, extending the time and restriction - the restriction sales if there are mental health holds. We're going to announce, tomorrow, a pretty robust - I mean, we've been working on this for four months or three and a half months of, you know, how do we make sure that we can do a better job of identifying dangerous people. And not that we can guarantee they won't do harm to themselves or to others, but to try to keep more people from falling through the cracks. And this is everything, you know, from spending $10 million a year to establish a single, you know, statewide, mental health crisis hotline and establish five 24/7 walk-in crisis stabilization services to, you know, making sure we expand some of the, you know, many hospitals have cut back their facilities so that we don't have possible capacity anymore.

So, I mean, so we're going to push all that tomorrow. But even as we do that we're - how do you keep - what are the appropriate ways to tray and keep guns from the mentally ill?

CONAN: And you also mentioned high-capacity clips and military-style assault weapons, the semi-automatic rifles like the one used in Aurora, like the one that was used in Newtown, the AR-15. To mention that, you said, you mentioned it, there will be a bitter fight on your hands.

HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think the key is to try and keep it away from a bitter fight. And again, once we get the real facts down and - let people discuss. I mean, do we really need armor-piercing cartridges? I mean, is that a place where reasonable people can find some common ground around this? That's - the challenge there is to keep people from getting swept away by their emotions and keep drawing them back to - hey, we've got a long-term dispute going on here, and how do we begin moving towards a common ground?

CONAN: Common ground has been difficult to find on this issue, as you well know.

HICKENLOOPER: Not kidding. Oh, my. I mean, I've been trying to call for the last couple of months. I've been bringing in both sides of the equation. And as long as they're not there both at the same time, they seem pretty reasonable and, you know, I'm hopeful maybe Colorado, you know, we're about a third Republicans, a third Democrats and a third independents. And we passed our budget, you know, we're a purple state. We passed our budget last year with 86 out of 100 votes. We've got some experience of both sides of issues coming together, saying what is the best? How do we protect people's freedoms and liberties, but at the same time try to mitigate what is clearly something unacceptable?

CONAN: And as you - there are extremes on both sides that everybody sort of retreats to those camps once the pressure seems to be put on.

HICKENLOOPER: Yeah, and that's - we see this in a number of issues, right? The actual strategic approach seems to be similar whether you're talking about, you know, looking at issues around firearms or whether you're talking about immigration. These kind of flashpoint issues, people feel - it's almost as if they feel uncertain if they're away from their home base, you know, the position that they've been defending for some number of years. But that's where - I mean, the only way you really get to change is to get both sides to listen.

And it's hard to, you know, when you think you know exactly what you believe, it's hard to really work at listening to the other side and hearing, you know, asking to say it in a different way and then say in still a different way, oftentimes, once you do that, you do begin to hear a different slant and you can find a way towards, well, I can't give you that, but maybe we could do this.

CONAN: Make a deal. At the same time, there's a lot of risk involved, and you've taken one, haven't you?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, I don't think I took a risk. I think that, at this point - and again, we made this decision, you know, a couple of weeks ago that we were going to, you know, just open the discussion and see if we could have a discussion without letting it run away from us, and try to collect really good information on both sides. And there's a lot of the stuff I didn't understand. I mean, some of the most basic stuff in terms of the lethal character of certain weapons, like shotguns, clearly sawed-off shotguns, federally illegal, is because they are so powerful.

And with the short barrel, they put a spray out - and one of these experts was describing to me if you use buckshot, it could be devastating in a small room. And he asked me, if I know what buckshot was. I said no, really. He says, well, buckshot is pellets in there that aren't for killing birds, your pheasants or ducks, it's for killing bucks, for deer.

CONAN: Deer. Yeah.

HICKENLOOPER: And it's big, big pellets.

CONAN: Well, governor, we wish you the best of luck. Thank you so much for talking with us.

HICKENLOOPER: You bet, Neal. Any time.

CONAN: John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

We've been deluged with calls and emails today. We're going to continue this conversation as we learn more about what happened in Connecticut. Yesterday afternoon, President Obama made the trip to Newtown. He met with first responders and some of the family members of those killed at a memorial service at Newtown High School. He put names to the victims beginning with the six adults who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As these difficult days have unfolded, you've also inspired us with stories of strength, and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school's staff did not flinch, they did not hesitate. Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy, they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances - with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.

CONAN: Later, the president went on to name the children, all 20, who lost their lives.


OBAMA: Let the little children come to me, Jesus said, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven. Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison. God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.


CONAN: This is the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.